KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- The U.S. military insisted Tuesday that Afghans mistakenly captured in a special forces raid last month were not abused and, in fact, were in better shape when freed than when captured.
Nevertheless, the Pentagon will investigate allegations that U.S. soldiers beat and mistreated captives from the Jan. 23 raid, one of the most controversial incidents in the four-month U.S.-led campaign in Afghanistan.
Several of the 27 captives later released told The Washington Post that U.S. troops treated them so badly that some lost consciousness and suffered fractured ribs, loosened teeth and swollen noses. Other newspapers carried similar reports.
The prisoners were kept at the U.S.-commandeered air base in Kandahar, southern Afghanistan. Lt. Col. Keith Warman said from there Tuesday that the abuse claims were without foundation.
"More to the point, they were in better condition than when they arrived," said Warman, who commands the base's detention facility. "When they arrived, they were examined and some had lacerations and some bruises, but none had broken bones and there were no serious injuries."
Base commander Col. Frank. Wiercinski said Red Cross investigators found no evidence that any detainees, believed to include fighters from the Taliban and Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network, have been mistreated.
"As soon as we got hot food, they got hot food. As soon as we were able to get hot showers and clean ourselves, the detainees were able to get hot showers and clean themselves," he said.
In Washington, a Pentagon spokeswoman said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ordered an investigation into the alleged mistreatment, although Victoria Clarke said the military "has nothing to indicate that anything like that happened."
The Pentagon first said U.S. special forces attacked an al-Qaida weapons dump in Khas Uruzgan, a town north of Kandahar, and killed about 15 people.
But after Afghans complained they were wrongly targeted and that innocents were killed, the U.S. military acknowledged that the 27 captives were not al-Qaida or Taliban fighters and released them.
The Pentagon already said it was investigating whether any of those killed were innocents. Afghans said U.S. special forces killed 19 people, most of them where they slept, and U.S. bombing killed two more, for a total of 21 dead in the raid.
Clarke said a U.S. team sent to determine who was killed in a Feb. 4 attack recovered "small pieces of bone and human flesh," as well as documents, small weapons and ammunition.
At Kandahar, Col. Wiercinski said the team also found rocket-propelled grenades and the belted webbing used by soldiers to carry equipment.
"We've come back with bags of evidence that will be analyzed by experts later," he said. "I can't tell and do not know if the remains found were from Taliban or al-Qaida or if they were simple Afghans and we've not made any positive identification yet."
An unknown number of people were killed in the Hellfire missile strike from a CIA-operated pilotless plane.
In Washington, Rumsfeld went into more detail about the planes Tuesday, saying the CIA secretly operated pilotless spy planes over Afghanistan well before the U.S. military arrived in Afghanistan last October.
Rumsfeld took the unusual step of talking publicly about the Central Intelligence Agency's role as a way of explaining why the agency is now operating armed Predator aircraft independently from the military chain of command headed by Gen. Tommy Franks, the U.S. war commander.
Because of the needs of the war in Afghanistan, the Army announced it has invoked a rarely used authority to stop active-duty and reserve soldiers in numerous specialties from leaving the service. The order covers more than 10,700 soldiers, mainly military police and intelligence specialists with expertise deemed crucial to the war.
In noting that Franks' command was investigating the claims, Rumsfeld said he was satisfied that CIA officials had established a "darn good record" of performance with the Predator in Afghanistan.
"They have on a number of occasions been successful in doing exactly that which they intended to do," Rumsfeld said.